Sorry I've been MIA this last month. I've been writing like crazy on a new project that's very different from the ones I've done (shocker, right? At this point I think the real surprise would be if I actually wrote two series in the same genre
o_o). ANYWAY, in between this new story and doing my research to get ready to enter the self publishing side of the pool this summer
, I stumbled over another of those wonderful, headsmackingly obvious yet brilliant writing ideas, and I wanted to share.
But first! The final Devi Morris book, HEAVEN'S QUEEN, comes out April 22
"The only game that matters is the end game
" is my favorite tag line of the whole series! Go get'em, Devi!
Anyway, on to writing!
So there's a common bit of writing wisdom that goes "Write the book you want to read." This is a very good piece of advice, but it's also a deceptively simple one. Of course
I'm writing the book I want to read. If I didn't find my book interesting, then I wouldn't be writing it in the first place, right?
Well, yes and no.
I've written a lot
of books at this point (13 between all my pen names and trunked titles), but I'm still discovering new, stupidly obvious truths about my process. Things I really should have noticed back on book #2 rather than #14. But writing is a tricky business, and its easy to miss parts of the process precisely because they seem so obvious.
For example, I engage books different as a reader than I do as a writer. I've long known that the reader side of me, we'll call her Reader Rachel, likes a lot of books that Writer Rachel can't stand. Take The Black Dagger Brotherhood
paranormal romance series, for example. Writer Rachel can bitch for hours about how those books are constructed--the ridiculous world building, the fact that all these ancient warriors never seem to actually employ tactics against their enemies, the weird and awkward side plots that have nothing to do with the current story and only exist to set up future books, the endless product placement, the god damn names (OH GOD THE STUPID NAMES).
And yet, for all these obvious flaws, Reader Rachel ate
that shit up
. Zadist (I warned you about the names) and Bella's book, Lover Awakened,
is probably my favorite romance novel ever, and while I gave up on series when she hooked Rehvenge (THAT NAAAAAAME) up with a goody-two-shoes selfless vampire nurse (gag), the fact remains that I still paid freaking $5.99-$9.99 for each ebook and read them all.
There are a number of other series Writer Rachel scoffed at and Reader Rachel adored, but you get the idea. For years, though, I ignored this dichotomy outright. I didn't even question what drove me to obsessively read these books that I knew were...kind of schlocky, honestly. But that was a huge mistake. By dismissing my own reading preferences, I was cutting Reader Rachel out of the picture all together. Writer Rachel was calling all the shots with my stories, which meant that even though I was (and am) very proud of the work I produced, I was disobeying one of the most fundamental rules of story telling. I was writing the books I wanted to write
, not the books I wanted to read
Realizing this was a headslap moment for me. Going back to our initial example, The Black Dagger Brotherhood
books are international best sellers despite their flaws. Readers aren't stupid. If a book is that popular, it must be doing something right, and I
was the one being stupid one for dismissing that. By ignoring what delighted my reader self, I was ignoring the instincts that made me a writer in the first place. I actually think one of the reasons the Devi books have been so popular was because I wasn't falling into this trap. The entire raison d’être
for Fortune's Pawn
was that I wanted to read an action packed SF romance and I couldn't find one. It was the essence of writing the book I wanted to read, and I think we can all agree the results were great.
Once I'd realized this truth, the obvious question became how could I do it every time? After all, if the caps lock of doom above wasn't a hint, Reader Rachel and Writer Rachel don't always agree. Fortunately, they don't have to, because I'm not writing Black Dagger Brotherhood or any of the books I like to read. I'm writing my
books, only now I'm inviting Reader Rachel to play as well by making the following adjustments to my writing process:
1) I approach my scenes like a reader
I've long said that a scene should do three things
: advance the story, reveal information, and pull the reader forward. That's all still true, but now when I sit down to plan a scene, I invite Reader Rachel to join in by asking "If I was a reader, what would I want here?" For a moment, I forget everything I as a writer need the scene to do and just think about what would be awesome. If I was reading this in someone else's book, what would I find exciting or thrilling or romantic? What is the pathos
here, where's the emotion? What does Reader Rachel want to see?
When you put it that way, these questions all sound really obvious, but for years now, I wasn't doing this. I always considered building fun and excitement into my work as part of the planning process (and an important cornerstone of fast writing
), but even then it was a tool to help me write faster.
The improvement to the audience was a side benefit, and that's wrong. Improving the reader experience should have been priority #1. Fortunately, my own innate love of overly dramatic things carried me, but I missed so many opportunities to make my scenes even more awesome. It's the classic "can't see the forest for the trees" problem. I let myself get too caught up in the writing process to remember that the reading experience is the entire point
of this whole operation.
2) I pay attention to what makes me read
It's not exactly revolutionary to say that reading widely is a vital part of writing. For a long time now, though, I've been subconsciously dividing my reading into "work" reading (books that make me a better writer) and "fun" reading (books I read on the couch while my kid watches Sponge Bob). Like most divisions, this was wasteful and stupid.
Source material is irrelevant. If I like something, I (and probably a lot of other people) like it for a reason, and understanding that reason lets me use it in my own work. So now, when I encounter something cool in my reading, no matter what I'm reading, I make it a point to stop and figure out why? Why do I like this so much? Why is it cool?
Even if I can't actually answer the question, just the act of asking has made me a better writer. The more I learn about writing, the more I realize that so much of storytelling is about awareness. Understanding the mechanical aspects of what makes a good tale, noticing and studying the details other people take for granted, and then practicing and experimenting with what we've seen in our own work--these are the things that make us better writers regardless of genre or experience.
3) I never forget what I'm writing
This one might seem silly, but bear with me. Reading a standard length book (80k-150k words) usually takes anywhere from six hours to twenty hours depending on length, narrative complexity, and individual reading speed. These hours can be shotgunned in a single session or spread out over many days, but either way it's a relatively short experience, especially compared to how long it takes to write a book. Now, during that reading time, you are immersed in the feel of the book--building terror for horror, rising excitement and wonder for fantasy, anxiety for a thriller, etc.
These intense feelings are the hallmark of good fiction and one of the major reasons people read. When you're writing, though, the relative timeline of the story experience is exponentially expanded, and it's very easy to lose sight of the feelings you want your book to spark. The result can be a book that makes narrative sense, but still feels disjointed, or never develops any sense of gripping emotion at all. Fortunately, involving your reader mind in the writing process neatly avoids this problem.
Your reader mind knows what to expect for your book even if your writer self hasn't quite figured it out yet. If you're writing in a genre, you've read that genre before, and your reader brain knows what to expect emotionally. All Writer You has to do is listen. For example, we've all had times when we get stuck on one paragraph for two hours, but one of the ways to fight that is to ask your reader self "how does this need to feel? If I was reading this paragraph in another book in this genre, what would it say?"
I'm amazed by how often this trick works, but I shouldn't be. Reader Rachel has read more books than Writer Rachel will ever write. She knows a lot
about how this stuff works, and if I can disengage my analytic, obsessive writer brain long enough to actually tap into that knowledge, the answer is usually sitting right there. It's all about knowing what you're trying to write on a high level and then using your reader experience and expectations for that genre (or even better, playing with and subverting those expectations) to keep your writing united toward the common goal over the long haul of crafting a book.
These are just a few of the changes I've implemented to bring my reader self in my writing process, but the results have already been amazing. I feel like I'm learning to write all over again, but then, writing is a constant process of reinventing ourselves. We are always rising from our own ashes, and it is this constant process of learning and examining and changing that makes us grow. There's no such thing as the top of our game, and that is wonderful
, because it means we can always go higher if only we keep looking for new ways to climb.
Whew, that post got long! Anyway, I hope these insights help you with your writing. Thank you as always for reading and I hope you'll check out HEAVEN'S QUEEN
when it launches next week!